hem, I felt guilty for taking them with me. I wasn’t sure I wanted the life I was living, though I always thought I would. I guess adjusting could take some time. I’d dreamed of beautiful clothing, expensive meals and a life that was charmed. But the reality of it was different. Hale wasn’t in love with me and I wasn’t his Cinderella. There was nothing about him that was prince-like. I had no idea what I was to the man or what we were together. And it was I, Sammy Jo Knox, who was stuck in the middle of this “thing.” Whatever this “thing” was becoming.
I thought we would walk the streets. But again Hale surprised me. There was a black Mercedes waiting. When we stepped onto the curb Williams was there to greet us. He opened the door for Hale and myself to slide inside the car.
“Williams, it’s so good to see you.” The very first friend I’d made in the city was here to join our trip. He grinned and nodded his head.
“Get in the car Samantha.” Hale spoke tightly from behind me. Breathing down my neck. I wanted to say more to Williams, but Hale seemed annoyed by my greeting, so I slid inside the car onto the smooth leather seats that were warm. Unlike the exterior, they were the color of butter and the temperature inside was perfect.
“Times Square,” he ordered as Williams closed the door. His attention then turned to me. “You don’t speak to the hired help as if they were your friends. They are my employees.”
“But I’m the hired help.”
His frown then eased to neutral. “Not exactly. You’re not like Williams. You’re taking care of my place and I’m meeting your needs.”
I bought the groceries, cooked and served his lunch and also the lunch of his associates. I cleaned the house and wore what he wanted. And was getting paid to do this. So yes, I was a hireling. An employee like Williams. But I also didn’t want to argue because Hale was taking me out. I was no longer locked in the penthouse. Only seeing those he wanted me to see.
“Okay,” I replied without interest. I wanted to say so much more, but I didn’t, this life being foreign to me, and perhaps this behavior was normal. Being open to a different way was a must if I wanted to live here. Moulton wasn’t the norm. Momma’s program was nothing like this. Say, for example, if you tried to compare the sun to a forty-watt light bulb. Moulton being the bulb.
“What exactly do you want to see in Times Square? I’ve often wondered what attracts the tourist.”
What you thought of when you heard the name of the city were Times Square and the Statue of Liberty.
“I’ve seen it on television since I was a kid. I want to stand in the middle and absorb it. Take it in like I own it or something.”
Hale chuckled. “Fair enough.”
I watched the city pass by from the window, wishing we were out there walking, soaking up the energy that rolled off the people as they hurried to their appointments. They had their coffee in hand, phones at their ears, with shopping bags or briefcases swinging. There was so much excitement that including myself seemed like the thing to be doing. I wanted to hustle somewhere.
“She’s changing her shoes,” I said in awe, as a woman came from the subway. She jerked off the sneakers she was wearing to slip on heels for the streets.
“That’s the business class for you.” Hale said it without emotion. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but I thought it was incredibly cool.
A young guy started to walk into the street while staring down at his cellphone. I started to yell to stop him, when a yellow cab blared his horn. It flew right past him, barely missing his leg, the cab never slowing down. I then decided that phones in the streets were a major no-no for me.
“Do people get hit often?” I glanced at Hale who was also busy on his phone living the life of speed.
“Daily,” he replied.
“That’s seven dead people in a week. In Moulton that would take two years.”
He stuck his phone in his pocket and finally looked up. “Let’s go see Times Square. Then we’ll go shopping on Fifth Avenue before we eat at one of my favorites. It’s in the Meat Packing District. You’ll like it.”
That all sounded wonderful to me. “Okay,” I agreed.
Before Williams stopped the car I could see it. The big, bright and shiny glowing place I’d daydreamed all my life. I was here. It was just like the movies. I wanted to push the car door open and leap from the vehicle running. I then thought about the cabbies and their obvious reluctance to slow for pedestrians in the street. I remained in the car with amazement. I didn’t want to be killed while exploring.
“Is it all you thought it would be?”
“More,” I replied honestly.
“Is this good sir?” Williams asked. He pulled up right beside what looked to be a massive M&M store.
“Yes. I’ll text when we’re ready.” Hale told him with a passionless bluntness.
I started to say thank you to Williams, but bit my tongue instead. He got out of the car with my fingers on the latch, beginning to open my door. Hale put his hand on mine. “No. He gets the door.”
Another thing I didn’t understand. I was perfectly capable of opening my own. I didn’t see why Williams had to. But I waited and let the man do it. The silliness piled and piled. As I climbed out I whispered a “thank you” before turning my attention to the screens, their colors running the square.
“Oh my. My, oh my.”
I wasn’t the only tourist here. They were everywhere. It was easy to see the majority of people in the square weren’t New Yorkers. The busy suits and ties were absent. Just cameras, families, and what appeared to be a cowboy standing in his underwear. Oh, and also, there were cartoon characters and a sad looking Mickey Mouse.
“Why is that man in his underwear?” I asked Hale as he came up beside me. An Asian family was having its picture made with the almost naked man and his guitar. A line had formed behind them. There were females my age waiting with their phones, their sorority shirts identical.
“The Naked Cowboy,” Hale responded. “One of the wonders of Times Square with its tourists.” He didn’t seem to think it was wondrous. His tone was again annoyed.
“He just poses for photos and whatnot? Or does he play the guitar and sing?”
Hale rolled his eyes. “He gets money for the photos. People tip him. Now, let’s go stand in the middle and let you take it all in so we can go. There are more enjoyable parts of the city that don’t include these people.”
I was enjoying myself just fine right here, but I didn’t say a word. I followed Hale to stand in the middle. I needed a picture of this. To print and send home to Hazel. She would squeal when she saw where I was.
“Will you take a photo of me?” I dug for my phone in the chaos of my purse and the searching drew his attention.
“Of course,” he replied. Then frowned at the sight of my purse. “After this we’re buying you a new one. Several new purses in fact.”
I glanced down at the purse my mother had made me. She’d sewn it for my graduation. I liked my purse. But it didn’t match my clothing. There was an obvious difference and he saw it, another thing I wouldn’t have imagined.
Handing him my phone I stood back and smiled. I extended my hands as if supporting the world, or more like Times Square in my palms. Very touristy indeed. Just as he took the photo a woman came up to his hip. She was painted metallic gold and wearing a tiny bikini. He frowned, “no thanks” was his sharp reply, though it didn’t seem to faze her. She had money tucked in her bottoms. I assumed she was another of those photo people who get tipped for taking pictures. I was tempted to get one with her. Jamie would think it was hilarious.
“I’ve had all of this I can take. It feels and smells disgusting.” Hale said it too loud and the gold woman left and then he came over to me. I agreed the smell wasn’t very agreeable, but we were standing on the world’s crossroads. Sometimes adventure was smelly.
“Let’s go shop for the items you need.”
He then pressed his hand on my lower back and led me to the waiting Williams. I didn’t say a word.
Shopping was more intense than I imagined. I picked some clothing but didn’t get to wear it, because models wore it for me. I then chose the items I wanted and tried them on myself. When I thought we were done, because it took forever, we ended up somewhere else.
The last stop was Louis Vuitton. I bought two purses quickly. As quickly as Hale would allow me. They cost more than any automobile my momma ever owned. As exciting as it felt to have t
Several times throughout the day Hale would answer his phone. I thought that might bring the shopping to an end. Deep down I wanted it to. The money he was spending increased my discomfort, because it wasn’t necessary. If momma could see this she wouldn’t approve. It was ego, extravagance and arrogance. Neither of the three did she care for. Was that why it bothered me so much? I knew momma wouldn’t like it? She’d warn me and I would ignore it. What if this time she was right?
His phone rang again after Louis Vuitton and he checked it without responding. Looked at the screen and then held it. We were settled in the back of the car. I thought we might be going to dinner. Although, after the shopping, I wasn’t sure he wanted to do that. He knew that the lavish treatment had set me off kilter a bit. Actually, it had floored me. He then turned to me and spoke.
“I need to go to dinner with a friend who is only in town tonight. You’re not ready for that kind of thing.” He then looked back at his phone. “Your clothing is, but the polish of the clothing isn’t sufficient enough. I’ll drop you off at the penthouse. You can put away your new things and enjoy the evening as you wish.”
I wanted to sigh in relief. Being alone sounded good. I was always tense with Hale. Unsure what he’d say or do next. I didn’t want to feel this way. If I could just put my finger on what had changed that was making me nervous around him.
When Williams parked at the penthouse I was anxious to escape the car. To return to the jail I’d wanted to flee earlier in the day. I was tense from my time with Hale. I wasn’t typically like this.
He stepped onto the curb then held out his hand for me to be helped from the car. I could do it myself, but I let him. It seemed rude not to do so. Once outside he pressed a kiss to my cheek and spoke softly into my face.
“Williams will deliver your things after he’s dropped me off. I’ll see you in the morning Samantha.”
Then he climbed back into the car. Williams closed the door behind him and hurried back around to leave. I didn’t watch them go. I was ready to get back inside.
“Man, I need a break.”
I’d looked forward to going into the city. Hale had made it something else. The shopping had been stressful and confusing. Why did I need so much? I liked my comfortable clothing and wanted to be able to wear it, especially when touring the city. What I’d imagined I would do was walk the streets and eat the food vendors were selling. Not be whisked from place to place. The way Hale was showing me the city wasn’t my idea of an adventure.
He’d be leaving soon though. Hale said he didn’t stay but a few days a month so my solo time was coming. I could do exactly as I’d dreamed. When I stepped from the elevator to head for the penthouse my eyes landed on Ezra. I froze. Couldn’t move. He was dressed as casually as he’d been this morning. Relaxed, he leaned on the wall. Whatever it was he did, didn’t require business attire. I couldn’t imagine Ezra being bossed. Taking orders didn’t seem like his style. There was a dangerous air about him. Yet, he didn’t scare me a bit.
“Hale won’t be home until late.” I then forced myself forward to the door. I wasn’t going to stare at the man. He’d think I’d lost my marbles. Although, he was nice to stare at.
“Yes, I know. I came to take you to dinner.”
What? That got my attention. I paused and looked up at him. “Hale wouldn’t like that at all.”
Ezra smirked as if that were funny. “It would seem you’re figuring him out.”
He was amused, but I was not. I then entered the code to the penthouse and stepped inside the door.
“If there isn’t anything I can do for you, then I will see you some other time.”
Ezra didn’t respond. Instead he followed me inside and stopped, inches away from my body. His warmth made me tremble and shiver. I forced my eyes to lift. They met his, waiting on mine.
“We can have dinner here. I’ll be glad to cook.”
Again, this was not okay. What was Ezra up to?
“I don’t think that would be appropriate.”
Ezra shrugged. “I’m not worried about appropriate. Sammy Jo, please relax.” He then walked past me towards the bar making himself at home. I watched him pour himself a whisky over three ice cubes before he turned back to me. “Care for a drink?”
I shook my head no and huffed.
He took a sip and the way his throat muscles flexed were as appealing as everything else. I jerked my gaze off him and stared at the windows wondering if I should call Hale. I didn’t want to get Ezra in trouble, but then I wasn’t sure he cared. He didn’t exactly seem the type to cower to a wealthy man. It was almost as if he mocked Hale.
“I’m not leaving Sammy Jo. Hale isn’t coming back tonight. I know where he is and the person he’s with. I’m here to keep you company. Nothing more than that.”
He was here to keep me company? So Hale knew he was here? Why hadn’t Hale just told me?
“Why? I don’t need any company.” I wasn’t sure what I was saying.
He didn’t respond right away. Ezra walked over to the balcony doors. I waited in silence for his answer.
“Because I like being around you. You’re different from the rest of this city. More of what I knew, what I miss. You bring back the forgotten I suppose. It’s pleasant.”
That astounded and intrigued me. “You mean your home? Your town in Texas?” I thought Alabama must be similar to Texas. Not that I’d been to Texas. Maybe little towns were alike.
“Something like that,” he responded. “Sometimes missing is missing. Doesn’t matter where the place might be.”
“What is it you do for Hale exactly?” I wanted to understand their arrangement. How it started. Where it would go.
Ezra took another drink. Grinned and held it for a second. I wasn’t sure why that question was funny. I also didn’t want to enjoy the way he appeared when amused. Which, I was currently doing, while staring at the man like an animal.
“It’s complicated Sammy Jo. I don’t work for Hale, not exactly. Not the way you think.”
“Are you partners?” I thought that would make more sense. Maybe allow him to define it. They looked like they stepped from two different worlds. The same went for Hale and myself.
He laughed, said “no,” then laughed even louder. That was oddly attractive. I had to stop thinking of Ezra as attractive. That was not okay.
I could see I wasn’t going to get any information so I gave up on that topic. I decided to then become bitchy. Might as well see what would happen: “my clothes will arrive soon enough. I need to put them away. Your company is a hindrance to me.” Did I just use the word “hindrance?” What the hell was wrong with me?
Ezra continued his study of my face, that look of his intriguing. “Maybe I do,” he replied.
Maybe he what? Needed the company? Sighing, I dropped my purse on the table that led into the kitchen. “Fine then, do what you’d like. I’m going to get some water.”
I didn’t look back at Ezra, hoping he wouldn’t follow. The man was downright confounding. He confused my brain to no end. Of course, my body was attracted. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that. But Ezra was hiding something. I could see it in the depths of his eyes. He was watching to see if I could figure the reason they needed one another to thrive.
I knew Hale wouldn’t want him here. At least I didn’t think he would. Was that why I’d asked him to leave? Or was it the mystery around this man Ezra that bothered and forced me to push
him? I glanced back at the door when I was safely in the kitchen, thinking about momma’s reaction. She wouldn’t approve of this man. He wasn’t polished, so he wouldn’t scare her. She liked the good ole boys. Although, Ezra wasn’t one of those, he just had their appearance and style. I wondered if he was even from Texas.
After fixing my water I took a slow drink and walked back into the foyer. I knew he hadn’t left. He would tell me if he was leaving. At least I thought he would. He wasn’t in the living room, but I could see him outside on the balcony. Going to my room seemed rude. Even though it was probably smart. Though I admit, I wasn’t really smart around Ezra. He was entirely too seductive.
The sound of the city hit my ears as I stepped outside to confront him. Ezra glanced back at me. “I was debating if you’d hide in your room or come and visit with me.”
So much for my confrontation. “I thought about it, then I didn’t.”
“Don’t doubt it. You strike me as sharp. Which is why you’re working for Hale.” When he didn’t finish I finally spoke up to relieve our momentary silence. “Finish that comment please.” I demanded, rather than asked. He didn’t seem to mind my aggressiveness, his gaze now back on the city.
“You’re not Hale’s typical choice. You don’t fit the mold.”
“His choice in maids?”
Ezra turned to me. “You know what I mean Sammy Jo. You’re smart. Don’t be naïve.”
I wanted to throw my water in his face. It was the way he said “naïve.” But I didn’t, because Ezra was right. I sounded backwards, dumb and naïve. I knew exactly what Hale had planned. He’d told me as much when he hired me.
“There’s a mold?” I needed clarification. I knew his last housekeeper